US golfer Phil Mickelson spoke to the press ahead of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event in St Albans
US golfer Phil Mickelson spoke to the press ahead of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event in St Albans

Phil Mickelson said Wednesday he does not condone human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, on the eve of the first tournament of the divisive LIV Golf Invitational Series near London funded by the Gulf kingdom.

The six-time major winner confirmed earlier this week he had signed up to play in the new series, saying he also plans to play major events, including next week's US Open.

Mickelson has not played since the publication of comments in February in which he criticised the US PGA Tour and LIV Golf's Saudi backers.

In an interview with author Alan Shipnuck, the 51-year-old American left-hander said LIV Golf was an opportunity to gain leverage over the PGA Tour.

However, Mickelson described the new venture's backers as "scary" with a "horrible record on human rights," noting the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate.

Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi, an insider turned critic, in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in October 2018. His remains have never been found.

Fallout from the killing continues to mar Saudi Arabia's image, especially in the United States.

The 51-year-old Mickelson, who headlines a field of 48 players at the 54-hole LIV Golf Invitational London, which starts on Thursday, faced a grilling at an eve-of-tournament press conference.

The American, who entered the room wearing dark glasses, was asked what he meant by describing the Saudis as "scary".

"Certainly I have made, said and done a lot of things I regret and I'm sorry for that and for the hurt that it's caused a lot of people," he said.

"I don't condone human rights violations at all, nobody here does, any throughout the world, and I'm certainly aware of what has happened with Jamal Khashoggi and I think it's terrible.

"I've also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history and I believe that LIV Golf is going to do a lot of good for the game as well and I'm excited about this opportunity."

Players opting into LIV Golf have done so despite PGA Tour warnings of disciplinary action.

While a number of players have resigned from the Tour in order to compete in the LIV Golf events, including two-time major winner Dustin Johnson, Mickelson said he had no intention of following suit.

"I earned my lifetime membership and I don't want to give that up," he said. "I don't believe I should have to."

"I don't know what's going to happen, but I have earned that (lifetime membership) and I don't plan on just giving that up," added the American, a 45-time winner on the PGA Tour.

Mickelson refused to confirm or deny if he had been suspended, or currently was suspended, from the American Tour.

"I choose not to speak publicly on PGA Tour issues at this time," he said at the Centurion Club in St Albans, outside London.

He also declined to confirm if he is receiving $200 million to compete in the LIV Golf events, but his answer indicated that the reported amount could be accurate.

"I feel that contract agreements should be private," Mickelson said. "Doesn't seem to be the case, but it should be."

The new LIV series, which comprises eight tournaments this year, is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.

Players will compete as individuals and teams for eye-watering purses of $25 million in all seven regular-season events, played over three rounds with no cut.